Shanghai Express – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Sammo Hung

Cast:
Yasuaki Kurata … Samurai
Yuen Biao … Tsao Cheuk Kin
Sammo Hung … Fong-Tin Ching
Rosamund Kwan … Chi
Kenny Bee … Fook Loi
Lung Chan … Firefighter/Security officer
Olivia Cheng … Siu-Hon
Kar Lok Chin … Firefighter/Security Officer
Chau Sang Lau … Fireman, security officer
Chia Yung Liu … Kang
Hoi Mang … Security officer/convict
Richard Ng … Han
Richard Norton … Bandit
Yukari Ôshima … Samurai
Cynthia Rothrock … Bandit
Kien Shih … Master Sek
Lydia Sum … Han’s Wife
James Tien … Yun Shiyu
Eric Tsang … Jook Bo
Yu Wang … Master Wong
Dick Wei … Bandit
Fung Woo … Mayor Yi
Ma Wu … Security officer/convict
Bolo Yeung … Cameo


The Movie:

It’s really disappointing that so many fans will end up remembering Sammo Hung for his time on the CBS TV show Martial Law instead of for his extensive career in Hong Kong Cinema. For those lucky enough to have witnessed Hung’s work done in his prime as both a performer and a director, the man is a consummate entertainer nearly on the level of his peer, Jackie Chan. His size and girth making him a rarity in the Action genre, Sammo is a unique star that entertained audiences in his heyday with wonderful humor and furious action. If anyone needs further proof of this, one must only take a look at Hung’s 1986 pseudo-Western Shanghai Express.

Though the film’s plot is nearly non-existent, Shanghai Express is an immensely entertaining romp directed by and starring Hung. The movie is a basically just an episodic series of vignettes involving a poor village that has lacked prosperity until one of its native sons, a scoundrel named Fong-Tin Ching (Hung), tries to help the town by introducing gambling and prostitution, even sidetracking a train load of customers to bring in extra big money to the town. Only unbeknownst to Fong-Tin Ching, the train also happens to be full of gangsters and cutthroats.

Under the guise of a Western, the movie has a playful sense of itself, much in the same way the Musical Paint Your Wagon does. The movie also has much in common with many 60’s Madcap Comedies, such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The cast in this film is huge, and actors like Eric Tsang and Richard Ng get tons of screen time for their little silly plot lines of broad comedy. One subplot involving Richard Ngs Han cheating on his wife gets a hilarious punch line that seems like it would be right at home in one of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther films, while other comedic sections are a wonderful showcase for Hong Kong-style slapstick.

You also get a heavy dose of action, as stars such as Yuen Biao (Project A), Cynthia Rothrock (Above the Law), Richard Norton (The Octagon), Yasuaki Kurata (Fist of Legend) and many others get extended fight sequences, ranging from silly brawls to heavy duty beatdowns. Hung himself gets many of the film’s key action scenes and doesn’t disappoint, especially in a brutal altercation with Yuen Biao halfway through the film. The final adrenaline-filled set-piece is a stunning piece of action cinema, as virtually every corner of the film’s Western village set is used while the gangsters and bandits do battle with the community’s townsfolk and a small group of samurai.

Silly and yet very satisfying, Shanghai Express is a prime example of the huge talent within Sammo Hung in many aspects of his film making. Just as an actor, he’s obviously desperate to entertain his audience, using loads of self deprecating humor as well as putting his body on the line in well orchestrated stunts and insane fight scenes. As director, writer, and stunt choreographer, Hung’s hidden imprint is all over this movie as well though, and he deserves all the credit for being able to wrangle it all together into such a satisfying package.


The DVD:

The Video
The movie looks tremendous on this Dragon Dynasty DVD, free of all the visual problems that plagued previous prints of the movie. The picture is crisp throughout and feels well preserved. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is also quite good whether in English or Cantonese. The audio track on this disc may actually be one of the best reasons to buy the film, as it is a vast improvement over all foreign editions.


SPECIAL FEATURES:

Feature-length Audio Commentary with Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan — This is once again a fantastic track from Logan, who knows insane amount about this production. My favorite portion of the commentary talks about how Sammo had actually split up the crew into four separate units in order to film all of the film’s final battle at the same time. Utilizing all of the film’s Western village set, it must have been incredibly difficult to keep the production together, but the movie’s success is a testament to his film making ability.

Express Delivery: An Interview with Director and Star Sammo Hung – This is a great interview with Hung, who talks about how he developed the script from different Western ideas and then finally put it all together.

Way Out West: An Interview with Action-Legend Yuen Biao – Biao talks about what fun it was to film this movie, as he states that it was almost like going on vacation, as all his friends were there and they got to see such grand countryside. He states that he loved filming on location for this reason, and mentions other times when the huge casts and crews would go to Europe and other locations. This is a pretty fun interview overall and makes you want to see the other films he’s talking about.

Trailblazer: An Interview with Co-Star and Martial Arts Champion Cynthia Rothrock – This interview goes over 20 minutes and has Rothrock discussing her entire career and especially how difficult it was to break into Hong Kong films. Being the first Caucasian female to be a star in Hong Kong, it was a difficult road for Rothrock, but the evidence of her success is in these films. There’s a terrific story about a scene in which she has a fight with a stunt man and apparently nearly took his head off. Another portion talks about how the toiletries on the set of Shanghai Express left something to be desired.

Deleted Scenes – You get about 6 minutes of deleted scenes here, but nothing of any major significance. There’s some good action and comedy beats that were cut, but nothing that the movie really misses.

Trailers – You get a bunch of trailers on this disc for other Dragon Dynasty titles as well as the Hong Kong and American trailers for this film.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Shanghai Express
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

8
THE VIDEO

8
THE AUDIO

9
THE EXTRAS

7
REPLAY VALUE

8
OVERALL
8
(NOT AN AVERAGE)